The Howard Stern Guide to Cause Marketing

12068_god_stern_1 Okay, so maybe Howard Stern isn't the ideal nonprofit mentor.  But marketing guru Al Ries writing in Adage.com thinks everyone could learn a lot from his new employer, Sirius Satellite Radio, and others that know how to create a "Halo Effect."

Many of us in philanthropy assume we already know about the "Halo Effect"--crowning the companies and individuals that support us with an aura of credibility and favorability.  But that's only one type of halo.  Another is when the success of one key product delivers a "halo" that boosts sales across a product line.

One of the best examples of this is Howard Stern and Sirius:

Sirius has 120 channels, but they promote only the shock jock. Results have been phenomenal. The day they announced the hiring of Stern in 2004, Sirius had just 660,000 subscribers. Today they have 3.3 million.

Stern is not for everybody. Probably half of the new Sirius subscribers will never listen to his channel. But the focus on Stern has generated enormous PR and created a halo over the entire satellite radio system. (Much like the effect "The Sopranos" has had on HBO.)

So what can nonprofits, and particularly cause marketers, learn from Stern and Sirius?  In a word, focus.

Focusing your marketing message on a single word or concept has been our mantra for years. But taking this idea one step further can also produce dramatic results. To cut through the clutter in today's overcommunicated society, place your marketing dollars on your best horse. Then let that product or service serve as a halo effect for the rest of the line.

A few nonprofits have learned this important lesson.  Take a regional player here in New England like The Jimmy Fund, which raises money for Boston's Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  The dominant image of The Jimmy Fund can be summarized in three words: kids with cancer.  I can see their bald little heads as I'm writing this.  While the money Jimmy raises is used to fight cancer in people of all ages, a lot of the marketing done to raise that money is centered on children with cancer, and with good reason.  The Jimmy Fund is playing its strongest emotional card, and "kids with cancer" is their ace of diamonds.

Here at Boston Medical Center, we've been exploring of late what our best horse is.  We serve a working-class, multicultural, immigrant population, but on whom should we focus?  Who our are "best" patients for marketing the hospital to donors, especially new ones.  To me it's a no-brainer: poor sick children.  They are the most vulnerable patients we serve, and the funnel through which we can raise money for ALL of BMC's programs.

Interestingly, when I've asked our most generous donors what originally brought them to BMC, it almost always had a connection with children.  And while they eventually diversified their support to help adults--particularly women, the mothers of all those poor, sick children--the bait was kids.

But advocating such a marketing focus is not an easy sell--especially for nonprofits sensitive to being PC and making room for everyone under the "big tent."  Even if it means that no one is seen or heard, or if the tent, lacking any real support, comes crashing down.

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